Docherty can step up when Arfield is missing

In the summer Rangers manager Steven Gerrard and Director of Football Mark Allen will be looking to improve squad and bring in more talent in attempt to win the league next season. The area in particular that needs to be addressed is the final third where too much strain has been put on Alfredo Morelos, Ryan Kent, James Tavernier and Scott Arfield. The lack of depth in the attacking areas is one of the main reasons that Rangers have drawn 9 of their 30 games this season.

The latter of those 4 players mentioned, Scott Arfield, has been an unsung hero for Rangers this season and has been vital to how Rangers play. Arfield, is no doubt one of the first names on the team sheet and has played 39 games this season, starting 37. This season Arfield has started 21 games in the league with Rangers winning 14, drawing 4 and losing 3 (67% win rate). Arfield has missed 8 games in the league and Rangers' record without him is 3 wins, 4 draws and 1 loss (43% win rate). The difference in win rate is quite significant and to put this into perspective Rangers have won 50% of their league matches when Alfredo Morelos has not featured. Though it should be noted that Arfield has missed double the games Morelos has in this competition.

In the 9 games Arfield hasn't started in or featured in (SPFL games, 3-3 sub appearance at Motherwell included) Rangers have drawn more games (5) than in the 21 he has started and this highlights that when he isn't starting Rangers struggle to get the goal, create the chance or find the space that takes the 3 points. The amount of goals Rangers score with Arfield in the side and when he isn't is night and day. In the 8 games Arfield hasn't featured in Rangers have only scored 11 goals (1.38 goals per game). In the 21 games he has started Rangers have scored 52 goals (2.48 gpg).

To compare Arfield with players from other clubs he ranks in both the top 5 for games per goal from central midfield and games per assist. Arfield has scored 6 goals in his 21 league starts this season which is a goals every 3.5 games. This is only outranked by Celtic's Ryan Christie who has a goal every 2 starts and Motherwell's David Turnbull who has a goal every 2.38 starts. Neither three of these players have scored from the bench. In terms of assists Arfield sits 4th in the league (all positions) for assist per start with an assist every 3 games he starts. He is out ranked on this occasion by team mate and club captain James Tavernier (assist every 2.73 starts) as well as Celtic's James Forrest (assist every 2.28 starts) and Callum McGregor (assist every 2.89 starts). Celtic's Tom Rogic also has a higher rate but has started less than half of the 30 league games this season so wasn't included. These stats show that Scott Arfield isn't just an important player for Rangers but is one of the leading central midfielders in the league and is the only one in the league to be in the top 3 of assists and goals (per start) in that position.

The issue with Arfield this season has been getting him on the pitch on a more consistent basis as he has missed 13 games, 9 of them through knocks or injury. This season Arfield has had constant niggles and there is no doubt that hitting age 30 and playing so many games in the English Championship as well as this season with Rangers has took its tole on Arfield's body. If you combine this with his commitment to being the captain of the Canadian national side it does mean that the manager is going to have to be less reliant on Arfield and use him more efficiently. As shown without Arfield in the side Rangers suffer especially when you consider that there isn't a player who does the same job. However, there is one player on the books at Ibrox who can replicate the same job Arfield does when he needs a rest and that is Rangers loanee Greg Docherty.

Docherty joined Rangers in January 2018 for 700k from Hamilton in what looked like a move for the future at the time. Docherty won the move to Ibrox through some impressive performances at Hamilton which included a dominating performance in midfield at Ibrox in a 2-0 win over Rangers just months before he signed. After a few substitute appearances Docherty broke into the starting 11 and didn't look out of place despite playing a little deeper than he did at Hamilton. In his 7 starts last season for Rangers the club won 4 games with Docherty setting up 2 goals in that time (assist every 3.5 games). However, the wheels of the season came flying off after a 4-0 loss to Celtic at Hampden in a match where no Ranger could hold their head high. Players fell out with the manager on the field, on the bench and in the dressing room. Docherty himself reportedly got in a bust up with Morelos coming off the pitch. The former only played 20 minutes in the final five matches of that season. New manager Steven Gerrard came in with new ideas and with new players like Arfield, Ovie Ejaria and Lassana Coulibaly. Despite making the bench in the early European Qualifiers Docherty was moved on loan to Shrewsbury Town in the English League One.

The move to Shrewsbury looked like an unremarkable move for Docherty but it has allowed him to go and get more games under his belt that he may not have got at Rangers this season. The loan move has ultimately been a success for Docherty who will have played 40+ games this season and contributed to a side that have been struggling in League One. Docherty this season has assisted or scored 33% of Shrewsbury's goals this season and has showed a real maturity in his game that people at Rangers may not have seen before.

The statistics and the elements of play Arfield and Docherty exhibit are similar and perhaps show that they could compete for that role in midfield that splits the lines and goes past the opposition midfielders and defenders to score goals as well as create goals. In terms of stats, in particular assists in 3 of the last 4 seasons Docherty has posted a similar average of assists compared to Arfield (an assist every 3 starts). In season 15/16, Docherty's breakthrough season, he managed to get 5 assists in his 16 starts for Hamilton (an assist every 3.2 games). Season 16/17 was slightly quieter and half way through the season suffered from a metatarsal fracture which took him out of 8 games and never really recovered until the following season. In the 17/18 campaign Docherty spent half of it with Rangers but was still at Hamilton for the first half of that season. Docherty again proved to be a creative and attacking out let for Hamilton with 6 assists in his 21 starts for Hamilton in the league (an assist every 3.5 games)

The 22-year-old when picked up by Rangers had work rate, stamina, energy and the ability to create chances but struggled to score many goals. In 109 total games for Hamilton he only scored 8 goals which isn't the greatest return considering the amount of goals he had a hand in. His loan move to Shrewsbury has been a success as he has managed to keep his impressive assist rate with 7 in 26 starts for the club in League One (an assist every 3.7 games). As well as that he has started to add a few goals into his game. In his 26 League One starts he has scored 5 goals (a goal every 5.2 games) which isn't a superb ratio in comparison to Arfield but is a stark improvement from his three previous seasons. These numbers don't include the consolation against Plymouth Argyle recently and nor does it include the Cup goals against Tranmere Rovers, Salford or Wolverhampton Wanderers. Docherty's full goal record this year is 9 goals (already 1 more than 3 years at Hamilton) in 41 games (a goal every 4.56 games).

The stats show that Docherty has sustained a level of consistency over a few seasons that matches Scott Arfield in terms of assists and he has now started to add goals to his game but this doesn't necessarily mean that it'll automatically transfer over if he were to step into the Rangers side for Arfield. Both players do have a style of play that is similar and both can play in the same role Arfield is playing at Ibrox just now. Docherty's most dangerous work has come from centre midfield by attacking the space in the box in attempt to score or create an opportunity for a team mate. This is similar to how Arfield has been playing for Rangers this season and it was especially effective in the first half of the season before tiredness and more niggles hurt Arfield's performances. Both players have scored the majority of their goals inside the box (Arfield 6/7 & Docherty 6/8) which isn't exactly ground-breaking because most goals come from inside the box. However, it's how both players are able to find space and get goals around the penalty spot. Both players look to run into the box and find that bit of space for a team mate to find them and then to get a clear shot on goal. An example of this would be Arfield's goal against Villarreal and Docherty's recent goal against Rochdale. Both balls come across from the right-hand side but the movement of the players is what makes the goal and the timing is perfect on both and it's what is missing in games when Arfield is not starting. Ryan Jack, Glen Kamara, Steven Davis etc. do not have the same ability to make those runs into scoring positions and that's why Arfield and Docherty would be perfect to rotate. Both are also able to work in a pressing game and hassle opposition defenders or midfielders into mistakes and both can play in the managers desired 4-3-3 formation. Docherty exhibits some of the skills a younger Arfield had and that could lead to a formation change. He's played in a 3-5-2 this season where he has had to support the right wing back down that wing and he showed this with goals against Salford and Wolves and his assist against Stoke City which was very similar to Arfield’s assist for Morelos against Dundee recently. It’s feasible to add that Docherty could play as a wider central midfielder on the right side in a 4-4-2 creating space and supporting James Tavernier or making the centre of the park into a 3 rather than a 2.

In terms of assists both players do offer something slightly different and the manager could use them in different games. Most of Arfield's assists have come from inside the box whether it's playing the ball across the face of goal or teeing off a team mate in space to put the ball into the net. Docherty's assists have come from neat through balls with a player running onto which seems perfect with a player like Jermain Defoe in the squad. Docherty also has assists from dead balls which Arfield does not offer and it's something the current 14/15 starters do not really offer out with Tavernier, Halliday and potentially Barisic. Bringing Docherty back into the first team would allow the manager to rest Arfield without needing to change the game plan but also give the manager the luxury of using them for selected games. For example, in games Rangers have struggled in against the likes of Aberdeen and Kilmarnock were you're only going to get 1 or 2 chances a deep through ball in space or a well delivered set piece could be the difference rather than what Arfield offers in the box where there is a lot less space. Having both of them around means that if one isn't playing well it means that there is an automatic replacement who can offer something different but at the same time doesn't completely change the game plan. Arfield could be used as the experienced head to see games out from midfield and Docherty could be the player that gives Rangers that extra bit of energy at the end of matches. Docherty this season has shown he can affect games from the bench with a couple of goals and assists coming off the bench which is always a handy asset to have.

Whether Greg Docherty is in Gerrard's first team plans or not there is no doubt Rangers have to invest in the final third to compete week in week out. However, Gerrard does have someone in Docherty who can be as close to a like to like replacement for Arfield who is one of the best central midfielders in the league and is not in danger of being replaced for an upgrade. Arfield, though, does need to be managed better in terms of game time and as the second half of this season has proved there is no adequate replacement for when he is out which is nearly a third of the time. Docherty was signed for a reason and has improved while at Shrewsbury and if he is given the chance, he doesn’t just have the chance to fill in for Scott Arfield but maybe take his place.

Thanks for reading,

Jody Black

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